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My Thoughts on the Oculus Acquisition

… WHAT THE FUCK?!?

That was my initial reaction, but after sleeping on it I’m more interested in trying to understand what it actually means for the Rift and VR over the long term. I think we can look at it from a few different perspectives, so I’ll try to address them individually.

For those of you who don’t want to read my rambling: The tl;dr is that in the short term I think this is a win for both the hardware and the low level software, but I have concerns about long term direction, research, and dealing with Facebook as a 3rd party developer.

The Hardware (Short-Term)

The FB acquisition gives Oculus a ton of purchasing power and leverage when trying to get components to build the consumer kit. It’s hard to see how this is anything but a major win for consumers - the hardware will get better and do so more quickly than it ever could have with Oculus as an independent company.

People discussing this aspect seem to be overhyping what can happen for CV1 though. The Facebook acquisition doesn’t mean we’ll magically get a 4k screen in the initial consumer version. Even if that were a viable part, how many people actually have a computer that can drive 4k at 75Hz or 90Hz?

The Hardware (Long-Term)

The big risk for the gaming community here is if/when the R&D needed for Facebook’s social VR experiences diverges from what is good for games. I don’t think they’ll ever completely diverge, over the last few years we’ve seen game designers use almost every device for games in a unique way. But I do think that tracking and input for games could end up being different than tracking and input for a social experience, and it’ll be sad if Oculus focuses on the social side because of the acquisition.

I could also see a future where Facebook wants Oculus to focus on capture devices for Virtual Reality content and providing that to consumers. As a medium Facebook needs content to share, and right now there is no good way for consumers to author VR content. Again, people will find ways to make a game out of it, but that’s different than focusing on devices that are for games.

The Software (Low Level/Drivers/API)

Like the hardware, I think everyone gets better low level software thanks to the acquisition. They’ll have a bigger team to work on the drivers and libraries, and it should make for a better experience.

The Software (High Level/Platform/Marketplace)

I know Palmer has said that you’ll never be required to have a Facebook login to use the Rift, and I think in the low-level ‘make a game that runs on the rift’, he’s probably correct.  I hope so. At the high level, I would be shocked if distributing content through the official Oculus channels will be done without a Facebook account. I’d also be surprised if any apps or games from Oculus didn’t leverage the Facebook platform as well.  Zuckerberg said that they’re a software platform company, and I expect if you’re using their platform you’re going to have to be part of their ecosystem.

Players/Consumer Adoption

Facebook has a huge audience that they could promote the Rift to, but I’m not sure there’s messaging that could convince the vast majority that buy run of the mill desktop machines to buy a new machine and a VR headset to experience … whatever it is that Facebook wants them to experience.

The early adopters are currently riled up, and I don’t know if any significant number will actually cancel their preorder. But at the very least it’s created a short-term antagonistic relationship with people who I think Oculus still needs to promote VR. Because VR isn’t something you can sell to someone with words or a video, it has to be experienced. So that’s not great.

Facebook as the Steward of Virtual Reality

This is really where a lot of the lashback has come from. Facebook has a negative perception in the community for their behavior towards privacy, antagonistic relationships with 3rd party developers on their platform, and poor support for their libraries and SDKs.

In terms of privacy, there’s no reason to think that Facebook will be well-behaved. If there are metrics or information that are beneficial to their core business (advertising) they will track them. As VR incorporates more sensors, I assume those will also be included if they make sense.  Does this mean that the tracking camera that ships with DK2 is going to start sending pictures back to Facebook? There’s no real value there for Facebook, so I’m guessing the answer is no. If the Oculus ever gets eye tracking would they track what you look at in their content? That seems way more valuable and far more likely. Our best hope here is that the tracking and metrics are part of the higher level software, and I think they’d need to be to have any contextual information. If that’s the case, then developers who target the Rift as a low level VR device should still be able to skip out on it. When Facebook has a VR experience though, assume that data is being tracked.

Anyone worrying about Facebook somehow injecting ads into 3rd party content not running on their platform is being silly, there’s no realistic way that’s going to happen. Could they require ads in stuff that ships on their platform? Sure. We’ll see if that happens in the long run, but in the short term I wouldn’t expect them to dictate that stuff except in their own first party experiences.

For being a 3rd party developer, I don’t know many folks who have had positive experiences with Facebook. But then, Oculus hasn’t exactly been stellar with 3rd party developers either. As a small team they’ve focused on working with a few key partners, and the rest of us have been left to sort things out on our own. I’d like to think that the additional resources provided by Facebook will let Oculus improve their developer outreach, but until that actually happens I’m in ‘wait and see’ mode.

So… What Does All That Mean?

As I said at the top, I think this is a win for the technology in the short term. I have no doubt CV1 will be a better device because of the acquisition, and the software will likely ship in a better state than it would have otherwise.

But for VR to succeed as a platform, the technology isn’t sufficient. It needs early adopters, advocates, and developers pushing the state of the art forward. And that’s the weak spot of this acquisition, may developers and early adopters are turned off by the thought of working with Facebook either due to ethical concerns or past experience as a third party developer.

Introducing the Kamakiri - our second ship for First Law

Introducing the Kamakiri - our second ship for First Law

First Law: The finished space station (diffuse + spec + normal maps)

First Law: The finished space station (diffuse + spec + normal maps)

More work on the space station, normal maps are done, diffuse textures up next

More work on the space station, normal maps are done, diffuse textures up next

More work on the first space station

More work on the first space station

Sorry for the radio silence over the last couple of months - I hit a bad spot in my day job and needed to find new work. But that’s behind me now and I’m happy to share a bit of the work I’ve done in the last week as I get back up to speed.

So what’s new in this build?

  • All new asteroids with high res textures from Alex. This should help for folks who like to fly close to asteroids and check them out for a sense of immersion. Really happy with how they look right now
  • Launching from the docking bay! You launch by setting your throttle to max and get an initial boost by launching directly at max speed. I want to add some camera fx to improve the “slammed into your seat” feel, but it’s a good start.
  • Rough model of the space station. People wanted bigger things in terms of scale, and now you’ve got it. Still need the texture maps and all of the objects that go on the outside (guns, shield generators, etc), but the space station clocks in at 4km in diameter. It’s immensely fun to fly around, and I can’t wait to integrate it into gameplay.
  • You can’t see it, but I’m playing with the Thrustmaster HOTAS flight stick! Really improves the feeling of control, and having a real throttle makes a huge difference. 
More asteroids for First Law
Up next Alex is going to be roughing out all the other shapes I need for the game so I have some pieces to work with while he makes the actual art.

More asteroids for First Law

Up next Alex is going to be roughing out all the other shapes I need for the game so I have some pieces to work with while he makes the actual art.

New asteroids for First Law
Alex is making some new asteroids with improved detail/texture so the really big ones don’t get as blurry when you’re up close. Should be nice for helping sell the sense of scale.

New asteroids for First Law

Alex is making some new asteroids with improved detail/texture so the really big ones don’t get as blurry when you’re up close. Should be nice for helping sell the sense of scale.

First set of joysticks for testing in First Law

First set of joysticks for testing in First Law

Official policy on youtube/let’s play stuff

It’s really fucking stupid that I have to say this, but since the whole nintendo thing is going on here goes:

Let’s Play/youtube folks, please play my games. I love you, your videos, and the feedback you give me. Do whatever advertising you want on your videos, after all you put the work into them.

I would request (but not demand) that if you use one of my games you give a courtesy link back to my blog or the game’s page if it has one.

First look at having a pilot’s body in First Law. Huge addition in terms of immersion!

A new video of my game First Law! I also released the first public demo for anyone who has an Oculus Rift, you can get it at http://rjevans.net/firstlaw

Early combat footage from First Law my April #1gam and first project for the Oculus Rift.  The sense of immersion is insane. Hoping to ship a small combat sim by the end of the month, and add some missions into the game next month.

CoD of Duty: The Premier First Person Shooting Fish in a Barrel Simulator

Play in the Unity Webplayer

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Download for:

(Note: Hello good people of the internet! I also have a new free arcade game you should check out. It’s available for Android/Windows/Mac/Linux and iOS is coming soon. Click here f more info)

For my January #1gam, I wanted to do something that’d be both small in scope and something that I hadn’t really done before.  Based on a joke that my friend John made about Call of Duty always being abbreviated ‘CoD’ on the internet, I decided to make a first person shooter where all of your enemy are fish.

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A lot of the ‘joke’ is how I feel about the standard FPS single player campaigns.  Short, not terribly interesting, and completely over the top with their story elements.

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From a development perspective this was actually a lot of fun to work on, even if I spent way more time on it in January than I ever anticipated to. I had never made anything like a FPS before, and I had never had any sort of scripted elements in a shipped game before, and this let me try out both of those things.

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Things I had wanted to do that I ended up cutting in the interest of time:

  • Co-op multiplayer
  • Controller support
  • An underwater level

In retrospect I think any more levels probably would have taken too long to play, and the joke frankly gets a bit old by the end of it. The 10-15m it takes to play through now seems sufficient.